Posts Tagged ‘Mark Mayfield’


Within a few weeks, my daughter, Dominique, will give birth to my first grandchild. In honor of this historic (and eagerly anticipated) event, I’m reposting this cautionary column about the horrors of witnessing childbirth, which I wrote in 1987, two years after Dominique was born. It first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News and the Atlantic City Press in 1988, and was later reprinted in several other publications between 1988 and 2000.

© 1987 Mark W. Mayfield

Childbirth is a beautiful, natural, miraculous event–unless you have to watch it. It then becomes a hideous spectacle that can cause permanent psychological scars. Watching his child enter the world is supposed to transform a red-blooded American manly man into a gentle, loving, devoted “daddy” who enjoys sipping decaffeinated coffee while swapping touching childbirth stories with other such men. But recent studies suggest that the opposite is true. After the experience, most men never want to look at their kids again. Unloved and neglected, these children grow up to be thieves, TV weathermen and politicians, thereby contributing to the moral decay of our society. Nevertheless, a growing number of gullible men are voluntarily participating in an activity that could lead to the total collapse of Western civilization.

It all begins innocently enough. Several months before her “due date,” your wife will ask you to accompany her to childbirth classes, in which a sadistic instructor will gleefully use graphic illustrations of a transparent pregnant woman to explain the various baby-making organs, including the uvula, the aviaries, the philodendron tubes and the surtax. During these classes, your wife will learn how to push and grunt. These are very important skills. Without pushing and grunting, your baby would have no reason to leave the comfort and security of the womb. It would stay inside mom for 15 or 16 years, or until it’s ready to start dating. When a woman in labor pushes and grunts, her body is saying, “Okay, kid, the free ride’s over! Get out here RIGHT NOW! I want my flat stomach back!”

Since there’s no guarantee that your wife will have a “normal” delivery, the instructor will make you watch a film about cesarean deliveries. Medically defined, a cesarean delivery is what occurs when an obstetrician realizes that he’s late for his golf game. The film makes “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” look like a Disney cartoon. Remember to close your eyes when the cheerful narrator says, “In many ways, a cesarean delivery is just like skinning a rabbit.” Other films in the course include “Changing a Diaper Without Losing Your Lunch” and “Making Inexpensive Baby Food with Spam and Lawn Clippings.”

Unfortunately, all the childbirth classes in the world won’t prepare you for the unspeakable horrors of (dramatic pause) the delivery room.

Shortly after you arrive at the hospital on “The Big Day,” (“The Big Day” occurs when your wife suddenly begins to experience automatic abdominal spasms called “contraptions”), a nurse who seems to be very attentive will promise to frequently check mommy’s condition. Take a very good look at this woman, because after she leaves the room, you’ll never see her again. She’ll sneak away to a secret nurse hide-out where she’ll guzzle huge plastic bottles of diet soda and read sleazy supermarket tabloids for the rest of her shift.

Meanwhile, the frequency and intensity of the contraptions will increase. This is when things begin to get ugly. As your wife strenuously attempts to evict her reluctant little tenant, the room will reverberate with hysterical screaming, uncontrollable sobbing and desperate cries for help, all of which will come from you. The patient, however, will feel no pain. Her body will contain more mind-altering drugs than that wild Doobie Brothers concert you enjoyed in 1977. But don’t worry, because these mind-altering drugs are expertly administered by a professional anesthesiologist who knows how to safely make a woman think she’s having her hair done when she’s actually having a baby. (Before a person can become a certified anesthesiologist, he must demonstrate his skills by successfully tranquilizing two fast-talking insurance salesmen and an excited sports announcer.)

The best thing you can do during this stage is to keep yourself occupied. Read a good book, whistle a catchy tune or eat a bologna sandwich. No, on second thought, don’t eat a bologna sandwich. Some men occupy themselves by videotaping the delivery. (Most of those men later destroy the tape without watching it.)

Several minutes later, somebody will say, “A few more pushes and grunts should do the trick.” At that point, you’ll hear something that reminds you of that squishy sound that rubber boots make in sticky mud. The doctor will then hold up an alien-like creature that is indescribably repulsive and unexplainably beautiful at the same time, but you won’t see it because you’ll be unconscious.

Mark Mayfield has survived two cesarean deliveries. His wife was by his side during both ordeals.



Back in 2001, before I decided to devote the rest of my life to the relentless pursuit of physical perfection, I wrote this column about a torturous device called the Ab Wheel.

© 2001 Mark Mayfield

Whenever a new fitness craze sweeps the nation, one brave man (me) provides a clarion voice of caution. Several years ago, when everybody else was frantically exercising to achieve “Buns of Steel,” I bravely retained my “Buns of Cookie Dough.” I bravely denounced steel buns because of their possible consequences (scratched church pews, broken theater seats, etc.). When everybody else decided to firm up flabby legs, I bravely expressed doubt about the effectiveness of a popular exercise device called the Thighmaster. (I also bravely admitted that I enjoyed watching attractive women in tight leotards demonstrate the Thighmaster on television.) And when everybody else was buying a video about “Tae Bo,” I bravely asked this important question: “Where is my Tae Bo muscle located?”

My suspicion of fitness fads started during my early teens, when I wasted several months of my hard-earned allowance on a spring-loaded chest-building contraption. After the dangerous device malfunctioned during my first workout, fatally pinching my puny pectorals, I vowed to be more careful when purchasing exercise gadgets. But even a clarion voice of caution occasionally discovers a product he just can’t resist. That’s why I recently purchased an Ab Wheel, an inexpensive exercise device that supposedly produces tight, well-defined, rock-hard, washboard-like abs, a.k.a. “abominables.” (I can live with my Buns of Cookie Dough, but I’ve always hated my Abs of Vanilla Pudding.) This simple invention, which is nothing more than a small plastic wheel impaled by a straight handlebar, comes with a handy chart that helps novice exercisers find the exact location of their abs, which are just south of their underdeveloped pecs and a little north of their Tae Bo muscles.

Using the Ab Wheel isn’t complicated. You simply “kneel on the floor, grip the handle with both hands, roll as far forward as comfortable, gradually return to the starting position, and repeat.” According to the instructions, beginners should not perform more than one set of eight repetitions within a 48-hour period. But since I wanted tight, well-defined, rock-hard, washboard-like abs before dinnertime, I intended to perform fifty sets of eighty repetitions within a one-hour period.

The first repetition triggered a painfully violent temblor that was centered deep beneath my stomach’s tranquil surface, way down in the ancient molten core of corndogs and chocolate cake I consumed between the 4th and 6th grades. As the shock-wave continued its upward journey, it traveled through gigantic shifting plates of my grandma’s famous Christmas fudge, through massive primordial deposits of Halloween candy and homemade ice cream, and, finally, through the unstable mantle of pepperoni pizza and deep-fried cheese sticks that formed during my body’s chaotic post-pubescent era.

During the second repetition, the intense pain was accompanied by many alarming sounds, including one that frequently occurs in cartoons, when a broken spring pops out of an old couch. As I bravely performed the third repetition, I suddenly experienced brain numbness, shortness of breath, mental confusion, and a comforting vision of a beautiful angel who invited me into heaven. At that point, I quickly canceled plans for a fourth repetition.

After catching my breath and regaining my ability to speak, I summoned my wife for an unbiased opinion of my new physique. (I also desperately needed her assistance because I didn’t have enough strength to stand up.)

“Do my abs look tight, rock-hard and well-defined?” I asked hopefully.

“I guess so,” she said, trying to suppress a loud laugh.

“Would you say they resemble a washboard?” I inquired.

“Oh, definitely,” she replied. “In fact, I thought you had glued a washboard to your stomach.”

“Would you say that the sight of my tight, rock-hard, well-defined, washboard-like abs is causing you to experience uncontrollable feelings of marital lust?

(This is when my wife’s attempt to suppress a loud laugh failed miserably.)

In summary, I can honestly say that the Ab Wheel produced noticeable changes in my midsection, including a weird protrusion that may be the beginning of a washboard OR a hernia-related problem that requires medical attention. I’m a little worried about it.

Mark W. Mayfield is now toning and sculpting his flabby Tae Bo muscle.

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© 2001 Mark W. Mayfield

I’m getting that urge again, the irresistible urge to decorate the front of my head with unnecessary facial hair. I’m longing for that itchy feeling of stubble on my chin. I’m yearning for something that will set me apart from the millions of boring, clean-shaven men who march through life in lock step, never knowing the simple pleasures of a furry face.

These urges aren’t uncommon for me. In fact, I’ve been experimenting with facial hair for almost three decades. When I was fifteen, I grew my first mustache, a pitiful little thing that had a grand total of eight hairs. I shaved it off after a cruel sophomore girl told me that SHE could grow a better mustache than mine. (She was right.) Two years later, after Mother Nature had lowered my voice and raised my quota of hair follicles, I grew my current thick, manly mustache, which I affectionately call “Mr. Whiskers.”

Mr. Whiskers is one patch of unnecessary facial hair that will always occupy a special place on my face. I could never part with such a faithful friend, a friend who stood by me through many tough times. Together, we barely survived a terrible accident in 1984, when I inadvertently shaved off almost half of Mr. Whiskers’ right side. I tried to disguise the damage by shaving off half of his left side, but the result made me look like Adolph Hitler. I didn’t go out in public for three weeks. (Important tip for guys with mustaches: NEVER trim your own Mr. Whiskers immediately after consuming six large mugs of strong coffee. Shaky hands and electric razors are a volatile mixture.) In the summer of 1990, Mr. Whiskers was severely singed at a backyard barbecue, when a careless chef (me) squirted highly flammable lighter fluid on red-hot coals. My poor mustache was instantly reduced to a smoldering clump of stinky, curly nubs. I almost lost him. (Also injured in that tragic mishap were Mr. & Mrs. Eyebrow and hundreds of innocent arm hairs.)

Mr. Whiskers has had plenty of interesting company through the years. When I was 21, just months before I got married, I grew a pair of “Mutton Chop” sideburns that were wider than a four-lane freeway. They were very attractive at the time, but these days, I can’t look at our wedding pictures without screaming, “WHAT WAS I THINKING?!”

Several years later, I grew a full beard because I realized that life is too short to shave every day. A beard, I thought, would require only occasional trimming for special holidays and perhaps an annual cleaning with a rake and leaf blower. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that I belong to a small group of men who were born with whisker glands directly below the outside corners of our eyes. If I don’t shave that area regularly, I begin to resemble a psychotic caveman. As my beard grew longer, I encountered another unexpected problem: When I woke up in the morning, the beard, like my hair, was pointing in several different directions. It always took several minutes to rearrange it. After six months, I shaved it off, and it hasn’t been back.

Now I’m on the verge of growing a goatee, which is quite different from a cowtee, a horsetee and a pigtee. This wouldn’t be the first time. A few years ago, I grew my first goatee, and reactions from my family were mixed. My daughter said it was “cool.” My wife said it made me look older. My son said it made me look like a “really mean guy.” A friend said, “Hey, Satan, how’s everything in the flaming abyss of eternal damnation?” I eventually shaved it off because small children screamed when they saw me.

But now I don’t care about small children or my smart-aleck friend. I care only about my new acquaintance, Mr. Receding Hairline, who’s been frantically telling me that I must immediately grow a goatee to divert attention from the top of my forehead. Unless something drastic happens to change my mind, this column will soon be written by a guy who looks “really mean.” Please warn your small children.

EPILOGUE: Soon after writing this column, I gave my face a brand new goatee. Nine years later, the goatee is still there, but, for some strange reason, it’s more gray than it used to be.

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In 2001, I wrote this helpful column for my fellow writers who occasionally find themselves at a loss for words.

© 2001 Mark W. Mayfield

Many Americans underestimate the value of having an ample supply of words. They apparently don’t believe the famous old philosopher who once said, “A man without words is like a day without . . . um, uh, “ (The famous old philosopher stopped there because his ample supply of words didn’t include “sunshine.”)

I personally experienced the embarrassment of word deficiency on a fateful day in 6th grade, when my dictionary-loving teacher scrawled four long words on the chalkboard and instructed the class to correctly use each one in its own dreaded “example sentence.” The teacher did not like my answers. In fact, her face became bright red, and her eyebrow muscles twitched uncontrollably as she read these four example sentences:

“Mark doesn’t know what ‘motivation’ means, and he’s too lazy to look it up.”

“Mark doesn’t know what ‘disinterest’ means, and he couldn’t care less.”

“If Mark knew what ‘procrastination’ means, he wouldn’t be flunking this stupid class.”

“Since Mark wants to be a hobo when he grows up, he’ll never need to know what ‘mechanization’ means.”

As my angry teacher proceeded to deride (Deride: to ridicule), denounce (denounce: to openly condemn) and humiliate me (humiliate: to make Mark feel like a dumb, stupid, dopey loser in front of the whole class), I sadly discovered an undeniable fact: I also didn’t know the meanings of “juvenile delinquent” and “incorrigible ignoramus.” That’s when I decided to learn more words.

Several years of intense study followed that terrible day, and by my senior year in high school, I knew what “motivation” means, and I was pretty sure about “disinterest” and “procrastination.” Now, many years later, I’m an experienced wordsmith (wordsmith: an expert in the art of smithing words) who knows DOZENS of words. In fact, I know so many words that I’m selling some of the obsolete, stupid and offensive ones I no longer use, including “Britney Spears.” They would be good practice words for students, who could use them to create impressive “example sentences” like this: “Britney Spears is sure looking sleazy these days.”

But I digress (digress: To turn aside, especially from the main subject in writing or speaking; stray.) Please allow me to return to the main point of today’s column, which is, I think, that you’ll be a dumb, stupid, dopey loser if you don’t learn more words.

Many skeptical readers are probably saying, “Come on, Mark! Words aren’t really that, um, uh, (The word you’re searching for is “important”), to which I reply, “Yes they are, you incorrigible ignoramus!” Just consider the possible consequences of word deficiency. Let’s say, for example, that you’re sitting at a local coffee house, happily devouring a chewy circular bread-like thing, which experienced wordsmiths call a “bagel,” when a stranger asks you a question that includes several big words you’ve never heard before. How would you reply? That’s right, you WOULDN’T reply! You’d pretend to choke on the bagel so you wouldn’t have to answer the question. And while you’re pretending to choke, you might accidentally REALLY choke, because, after all, a partially chewed bagel wad can easily clog up the ol’ windpipe. That’s why Congress must immediately pass tough laws that will severely punish bagel makers who refuse to modify the shape, texture and density of their deadly product. Americans will not tolerate more needless bagel-related tragedies!

But I digest. Please allow me to return to the main point of today’s column, which is, of course, that you should never approach a male elephant during mating season. Somebody will get hurt, and it WON’T be the elephant. Oops! Sorry about that. That’s the main point of another column. I’m becoming quite scatterbrained in my old age. Yesterday, I walked into the kitchen to get something, and I then I completely forgot why I was there. I hate that!

But I undress. I must return to the main point of today’s column, which is, maybe, something about words. In closing, I want to say that words are very important, especially for smart-alecky 6th graders who don’t want to be juvenile delinquents. So, kids, if I were you, I’d learn some more words, and I’d learn them darned expeditiously (expeditiously: quickly).

Wordsmith Mark Mayfield didn’t really digest and undress during this column.

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© 2002 Mark W. Mayfield

There are four cardinal rules of column writing (sometimes called “columning”):

1. Thou shalt not publicly criticize or impugn any organization that enjoys overwhelming support from the American people, especially if the organization is the Girl Scouts.

2. Before using “impugn” in a column, thou shalt look up the word in the dictionary to make sure it means what you think it means.

3. If you’re a columnist who’s columning, thou shalt not use “me” when “I” is the correct pronoun. (Of course, only ignorant novice columnists violate this rule. Me and my fellow veteran columnists never make such rookie mistakes.)

4. Thou shalt not use biblical language for humorous effect.

Today, I will knowingly and happily violate cardinal rule #1. After years of falling prey to every fast-talking Girl Scout who ever accosted me at my doorstep, at a grocery store, at church, in parking lots, at malls and in dark alleys, I’m finally saying, “enough is enough!” The final straw was a disturbing exchange I had with a very persistent Girl Scout who was peddling her habit-forming merchandise in front of a supermarket.

“Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” she politely asked, holding up a box of those delicious shortbread cookies.

“No thank you,” I politely replied. “We already have plenty of Girl Scout cookies at home.” (My statement was absolutely true. Me and my gullible wife–I mean, my gullible wife and me–I mean, my wife and her gullible husband ordered ten boxes in January.)

“But, Mr. Mayfield,” she said, “ we still have lots of your favorite kind, Thin Mints.” She held up a box of the most delicious Girl Scout cookie ever invented.

“How do you know my name and how do you know I LOVE Thin Mints?!” I demanded, unable to conceal my anger.

“Everybody loves Thin Mints,” she replied with feigned sweetness. “Who can resist a crispy cookie covered with delicious minty chocolate?” As she spoke, I saw something sinister in her eyes and it frightened I. I mean it frightened me.

“Don’t lie to me, you cold-hearted little cookie dealer!” I screamed. “You KNOW that I’ve ALWAYS loved Thin Mints! You KNOW that in 1997, while I watched Hitchcock’s original Psycho, I nervously consumed two entire boxes of Thin Mints. You KNOW that in February of 2000, I drove around aimlessly at 1:00 a.m., desperately hoping to find a stray Girl Scout who could give me a Thin Mint “fix.” And I KNOW how you know these things. You have a computer printout of my past cookie purchases, don’t you? You have colorful graph charts that illustrate my cookie preferences, don’t you? You have a record of every single cookie I’ve ever purchased, don’t you? Well, let me tell you something, little miss cookie girl. I’m not falling for your tricks this time. I’m getting in my car and driving away with my wallet intact, so put THAT in your Thin Mint and smoke it!”

But the hideous Girl Scout creature wasn’t finished with me (or is that “finished with I?”).

“Maybe you’ll change your mind after a little talk with Mrs. Pummelwhack, the world’s most violent Troop Mom,” she said, tilting her head toward a huge woman holding a baseball bat. “She just ‘sold’ 213 boxes of Peanut Butter Patties to a 350-pound football player. I’m sure that she can ‘sell’ a few boxes to you, too.”

“Do you really believe that threats will make me change my mind?” I bravely asked, keeping a wary eye on Mrs. Pummelwhack. “Now I understand why you sell cookies only once a year. It’s because if you stay in the same place too long, the authorities will put an end to your criminal behavior. Well, sweetheart, this is one man who won’t be intimidated by a sneaky little girl and a musclebound woman with a baseball bat.”

At this point, our conversation ended at this point because I was frantically removing money from my wallet to pay Mrs. Pummelwhack. By the way, readers who want to buy more Thin Mints can contact me. I have 213 extra boxes.

Mark Mayfield admits that the preceding “disturbing exchange” was slightly embellished for this column.

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This Saturday most Americans will set their clocks ahead one hour. In my house, we’ll set our clocks ahead one bird. You’ll understand what I mean after reading this column, which I wrote in 2001.

© 2001 Mark W. Mayfield

My all-time favorite kitchen accessory is a delightful timekeeping device I lovingly call the “Bird Clock,” which hangs directly above a framed copy of my all-time favorite literary creation, a magnificent piece of writing called “Mark’s Heartfelt Kitchen Prayer for Modern Families with Hectic Schedules.” (“Dear Lord, please protect my busy family from salty, fat-laden snacks, deliver us from evil toaster pastries, and give us strength to endure another week of bland frozen dinners, rubbery microwaveable burritos and overpriced fast food. Amen.”)

Every hour, the clock plays the song of one of these twelve beautiful birds: the House Finch (12:00), the American Robin (1:00), the Northern Mockingbird (2:00), the Blue Jay (3:00), the House Wren (4:00), the Tufted Titmouse (5:00), the Northern Oriole (6:00), the Mourning Dove (7:00), the Black-capped Chickadee (8:00), the Northern Cardinal (9:00), the White-throated Sparrow (10:00), and the White-breasted Nuthatch (11:00).

(Interesting behind-the-scenes fact: Before creating the bird clock, engineers tested several other models, all of which were unsuccessful. The “Underground Rodent Clock” didn’t work because the gophers and ground squirrels constantly argued and bit each other during recording sessions. After 24 hours of exposure to the “Laughing Hyena Clock,” one consumer tester developed a nervous twitch that wouldn’t stop. The loud grunts and snorts of the “Hog Clock” really bothered testers at mealtimes. The “Dog Clock” was a pretty good idea, but several of the featured canines sounded too similar, making it difficult to distinguish the 2:00 Pomeranian bark from the 3:00 Pekinese bark, and the 7:00 German Shepherd bark from the 8:00 Labrador bark. I won’t waste your time by describing the ill-fated Carnivore Feeding Frenzy Clock.)

After living with the bird clock for several weeks, I started to tell time with birds instead of hours. This recent conversation between my daughter and me illustrates the technique:

Me: Look at the time, young lady! It’s almost Northern Cardinal, and I told you FOUR birds ago to finish your homework before Mourning Dove. You’ve been home since half past Blue Jay, and all you’ve done is talk on that stupid telephone, bird after bird after bird! When I was your age, I spent seven birds a day at school, then worked a 3-bird shift at Taco Galaxy, and still managed to do my homework before Black-capped Chickadee! I swear that if you don’t finish that book report by White-throated Sparrow, your new curfew will be White-breasted Nuthatch!

My know-it-all teenage daughter: But tomorrow is Saturday, dad.

Me (sarcastically): Well, excuse my stupid mistake, little Miss Perfect! Perhaps I’m just mentally exhausted from waking up every stinkin’ morning at Tufted Titmouse and working my butt off until Northern Oriole! Someday, when YOU have a job, you’ll discover that those long 12-bird days at the office can really wear a person down. Anyway, since it’s Friday, I’ll allow you to stay up until House Finch, but don’t make a lot of noise. Last week your stereo woke me up at American Robin, and I didn’t get back to sleep until Northern Mockingbird!

So if you’re looking for an inexpensive gadget that will brighten a dreary day and provide new, creative ways of yelling at your children, I wholeheartedly recommend the amazing bird clock. It’s available wherever silly household novelties are sold. And if you’re looking for something that will protect you from harmful or disgusting food, I wholeheartedly recommend “Mark’s Heartfelt Kitchen Prayer for Modern Families with Hectic Schedules.”

Well, the bird clock on the wall says it’s time to end this column and begin today’s long list of domestic chores. My son has a dental appointment at half past White-breasted Nuthatch, and then I’ll meet my wife for lunch at a quarter till House Finch. At American Robin, I have to take our family car to Honest Earl’s Needless Auto Repair Center. And shortly after Northern Mockingbird, my daughter will undergo an experimental surgical procedure to relieve severe ear swelling caused by spending too much time on the telephone. Busy times like this make me wish there were more birds in a day.

Mark W. Mayfield ( wrote this column in a bird and a half.

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Today I ran into somebody I barely know and rarely see. “How have you been, Rick?” he asked cheerfully. His greeting would’ve been perfectly fine except for one small problem: My name isn’t Rick. It’s Mark.

It would be easy to assume that the guy made the mistake because I resemble a Rick he knows or once knew, but here’s the weird part: This is not the first time I’ve been called Rick. In fact, about 80% of the people who misidentify me call me Rick.

Through the years, I’ve tried to come up with a reasonable explanation for this phenomenon.

I once thought that people who are frantically trying to recall my name just blurt out the first one-syllable male name that comes to mind. But if that were the case, why is the name usually Rick? Wouldn’t I occasionally be mistaken for Mike, Mick, Matt or even Mack?

Then I wondered if it could be a generational thing. After all, many guys in my age group are named Rick, so maybe when somebody is trying to recall the name of a male baby boomer, “Rick” is a good bet.

I even considered the possibility that I look like a famous Rick, which would explain why so many different and unrelated people make the same mistake. But after Googling “Famous Ricks,” I discovered that I don’t even bear a slight resemblance to Rick Nelson, Rick Astley, Rick Dees, Rick Springfield, Rick James, Ricky Ricardo, or any other well-known Rick.

Please understand that I have nothing against the name Rick. In fact, it’s a fine name, and I’ve known a couple of exceptional Ricks in my life. But I just can’t figure out why I remind people of Rick instead of Jim or Kevin or Carl or Brian or Steve or . . . well, you get the idea.

Which brings me to my Reader Question for today: What are your theories about mistaken identities? Do you think any of my theories hold water? I’d love to hear your opinions, especially if your name is Rick.

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